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50 Best NFL Players of 2017

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

Athlon Sports’ 2017 Pro Football Magazine

The NFL is full of high-caliber athletes, regardless of position played. But when stacked up against one another, which position or player reigns supreme?

For example, everyone knows that quarterback remains the “it” position, but is that where the majority of the NFL’s talent lies these days? As part of its 2017 NFL Preview magazine, Athlon Sports not only ranked the players at each position, it also put together a top 50 overall list.

Quarterbacks do lead the way with the most representatives among the top 50 with 11, including the No. 1 (Aaron Rodgers) and No. 2 (Tom Brady) players in the league. However, it could be argued that defense reigns supreme with the next most represented groups being defensive linemen (nine players) and defensive backs (seven). In fact, there are more linebackers and offensive linemen (six each) among the top 50 than there are wide receivers (five) or running backs (four).

So the guys under center may get all the glory when it comes to the headlines, big contracts and name recognition, but they are not the ones you should keep a close eye on this season if you want to watch the NFL’s best in action on the field.

Athlon’s player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2017 NFL Preview magazine.

2017 NFL Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I OL I DL I LB I DB

NFL's Top 50 Players for 2017

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

The passer with the top quarterback rating in NFL history (104.1) remained dominant. Led NFL with 40 touchdown passes and guided Packers to eight straight wins before NFC title game loss.

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England

A season that opened with a four-game Deflategate suspension couldn’t have ended any sweeter — with Super Bowl LI MVP honors. Shows no signs of slowing down as he reaches age 40.

3. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta

All-time NFL leader in average career receiving yards per game (96.3) topped the league in that category once again in 2016. Became sixth player in league history with 300-plus receiving yards in a single game last season versus Carolina.

4. Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland

Won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors despite a lack of pass-rushing support from teammates. Accounted for 11 of Oakland’s league-low 25 sacks.

5. Von Miller, OLB, Denver

Signing a massive contact extension in 2016 offseason didn’t create complacency. Finished with double-digit sacks (13.5) for fifth time in past six seasons.

Athlon Sports 2017 Pro Football Preview

6. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh

No running back is more patient in allowing holes to open before exploding through them. Fastest player to ever reach 3,000 rushing and 1,500 receiving yards — at 38 career games.

7. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City

Overcame cancer on road to becoming highest-paid safety in NFL history after signing six-year, $78 million contract in the offseason. Money well earned after another stellar 2016 campaign highlighted by scoring eight points individually in road win over Atlanta.

8. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Carolina

Nobody better when healthy, but concussions becoming a major concern for career longevity. Missed final six games after suffering latest head trauma against New Orleans.

9. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

He remained the NFL’s most disruptive interior lineman in 2016. Will transition to 3-4 end under new Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, but no change expected to penetrating style of play.

10. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston

Missed almost all of last season following back surgery. Should return to Defensive Player of the Year form — an award he has already won three times.

11. Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas

The best player on the NFL’s top offensive line. Allowed only two sacks in 13 games last season despite having to block for a rookie quarterback in Dak Prescott.

12. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas

Became fifth rookie since AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to win league’s rushing title with 1,631 yards. Receiving threat as well with 1,994 scrimmage yards, marking the third-highest total ever by a rookie.

Athlon Sports 2017 NFL Preview Magazine

13. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati

Because of a midseason hamstring injury, fell just 36 yards short of joining Randy Moss as only wide receivers to open NFL careers with six consecutive 1,000-yard showings. The 2016 season highlighted by Hail Mary catch for the ages versus Cleveland.

14. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta

An MVP season was ruined by Atlanta’s collapse in Super Bowl LI. However, the loss shouldn’t diminish a brilliant 2016 campaign highlighted by a career-high 38 touchdown passes and 117.1 quarterback rating.

15. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh

This textbook route-runner scored a lucrative contract extension after topping 100 catches for the fourth straight season. No wideout has ever caught more passes in a four-year span (481 for 6,315 yards since 2013).

16. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh

Overcame an early season knee injury to lead Pittsburgh to eight straight wins and AFC title game berth. Now ranks in top 10 all-time for touchdown passes (301) and passing yards (46,814).

17. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England

Hasn’t completed a 16-game season since 2011 because of injuries. But when healthy, there is no better tight end.

18. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

No NFL receiver possesses more ability to turn a quick slant into a touchdown. Could rank among all-time greats if able to play in more disciplined fashion.

Athlon Sports 2017 NFL Preview Magazine

19. Sean Lee, OLB, Dallas

Linchpin to the NFL’s top run defense in 2016. Compiled a career-high 145 tackles and remained healthy, which has proven biggest career challenge.

20. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle

Carried Seattle’s offense while playing through a knee injury suffered in Week 3. Posted career highs in completions (353), attempts (546) and passing yards (4,219).

21. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona

Pity the cornerback aligned on the opposite side in Arizona’s defense. The Cardinals must find a quality No. 2 corner this offseason because teams won’t throw Peterson’s way unless absolutely necessary.

22. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans

Keeps rolling even at age 38. Amassed highest yardage and touchdown totals (5,208 and 37, respectively) since 2013.

23. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle

Has always talks a big game and continues to back up those words by essentially shutting down one side of the field in coverage. Also can trail elite NFL receivers on the outside or slot.

24. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati

Led all of the NFL’s defensive tackles with nine sacks despite constant double-teaming. Pat Sims (1.5) was the only other Bengals DT with a sack in 2016.

25. Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City

Despite only entering the NFL in 2015, nobody has more interceptions (14) or passes defensed (46) over the past two seasons combined. Also produced 45 tackles and three fumble recoveries in 2016.

26. Zack Martin, G, Dallas

First Cowboys rookie (non-kicker) in 45 years to make All-Pro team (in 2014) continues to play at elite level. Hasn’t missed a start since grade school.

27. David Johnson, RB, Arizona

First player in NFL history to post 100-plus yards from scrimmage in first 15 games of a season. Set franchise record in that category (2,118) and scored NFL-high 20 touchdowns.

28. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland

Value to the Raiders was further reinforced when Oakland collapsed following his season-ending leg injury in Week 15. Expected to sign a monster contract extension before start of 2017 campaign.

29. Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

Almost won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award after greatly improving his range following a shaky rookie season. Played in all but five of New York’s 1,110 defensive snaps.

30. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis

The Colts have failed to make the playoffs in two straight seasons for the first time since 1997-98. But 8–8 records the past two years would be far worse if Luck weren’t there.

Athlon Sports 2017 NFL Preview Magazine

31. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland

Widely considered the top offensive lineman of his generation. Still hasn’t missed a single snap since being a 2007 first-round draft pick.

32. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle

Seahawks defense wasn’t the same after one of NFL’s most astute defenders suffered season-ending leg injury in early December. Eighteen interceptions since 2011 rank fifth among all NFL players in that span.

33. Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City

Played in just five games last season because of knee problems. Talent still on display with 21 tackles and four sacks in those contests.

34. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami

It took a season, but the Dolphins finally found a defensive scheme — the “Wide-Nine” — that played to the same strengths Suh displayed in Detroit. Notched a career-high 72 tackles along with five sacks.

35. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas

Became NFL’s highest-paid center last August by signing a six-year, $56.4 million contract. Has not allowed a sack since 2014 season.

36. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston

Became as dominant as Watt in the latter’s absence after being shifted from OLB to end. Finished with career highs in tackles (52), sacks (six) and quarterback hits (17) for NFL’s top-ranked defense.

37. Josh Norman, CB, Washington

A true shutdown cornerback whose surprising 2016 offseason release by Carolina hurt the Panthers and boosted Washington’s slumping secondary. The only downside: He must learn to better control on-field emotions to stop drawing penalties, fines and even NFL suspensions.

38. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit

Part of 2016 MVP conversation until finger injury triggered a late-season slump. No quarterback has ever passed for 30,000 yards in fewer games (109).

39. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo

Rebounded from injury-plagued 2015 campaign to post highest per-carry average (5.4 yards) of eight-year NFL career. Seven 100-yard games highest total for a Bills RB since Willis McGahee in 2004.

Athlon Sports 2017 NFL Preview Magazine